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Noonga Reconciliation Group (NRG)

Deadly Vibe Issue 103 September 2005

Sharing the Spirit

Thinking nationally by acting locally ” reconciliation is alive and kicking in Brisbane.

A special reconciliation group in Brisbane is bringing reconciliation alive through education, healthy debate and good old fashioned fun.

Noonga Reconciliation Group (NRG) was established in August 1997 during the time of the Native title debates and grew out of a realisation that mainstream Australians lacked knowledge and understanding of the issues that were impacting on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“NRG aims to promote reconciliation through experiential education, cultural understanding and active involvement in reconciliation initiatives,” says NRG Secretary, Bev Hickey. “From the very beginning, NRG sought guidance, involvement and blessing from the Murri community.”

In 1999 Aunty Ruth Hegarty, local Murri Elder and the group’s patron, steered the group in the direction of Taigum Primary School in Brisbane’s northern suburbs where an extensive Reconciliation “Learnscape” was established.

“The Learnscape provides the opportunity for children and adults to learn more about Indigenous history and culture in a unique and inspiring environment,” Bev explains.

This 300 metre precinct now incorporates bush food, bush medicine and other useful species and has a system of paths interlinking learning circles (outdoor classrooms), a chain of waterholes, and an outdoor performance space.

A special feature of the Learnscape is two Recognition Spaces, which are Noonga’s and the Taigum community’s tribute to two extraordinary local Murri people ” Aunty Ruth Hegarty and Uncle “Stan” McBride (deceased). Aboriginal artist Mayrah Dreise worked with Taigum and Kenilworth school students to create two art installations ” slumped glass and ceramic tiles ” that tell the story of Aunty Ruth’s and Uncle Stan’s life and achievements.

“Guided tours of the Learnscape have become big business for many of the Taigum students who are great ambassadors for reconciliation,” says Bev. “They proudly and confidently share their knowledge about native plants and their traditional usage with visitors from as far away as Taiwan, South Africa and Japan.”

Closer to home, tours and tastes of bush tucker have been offered to Aboriginal Elders and students from Australian Catholic University and local schools.

“The tour guide project has also been tremendously successful in helping to build self-esteem and social skills in these students,” Bev says.

In addition to an ever-expanding Learnscape, NRG has also become involved with many other reconciliation initiatives. One such initiative brought the group into collaboration with Dr Ken Edwards from the Queensland University of Technology and a number of his Indigenous students.

“Since 2002, under NRG’s direction, hundreds of primary and secondary school students have celebrated NAIDOC Week by coming together to play a variety of traditional Aboriginal and Islander games,” Bev says.

Earlier this year NRG also took the initiative to organise a series of public debates which dealt with issues involving the Aboriginal community.

“The aim of the public sessions was to rekindle people’s interest in Indigenous and reconciliation issues by giving them the opportunity to listen, discuss, debate and argue ” in a respectful space,” Bev explains. “Speakers included people from all segments of the community such as Aboriginal Elders, Members of Parliament, university lecturers and community workers.”

The debates, with topics as varied as “Howard’s reconciliation: Is mutual obligation the answer?” and “True blue believers ” exploring diverse Indigenous spiritualities”, drew audiences in excess of 100 on each occasion and has motivated the group to organise a second series of debates to be held later this year.

To find out more about NRG, head to

(Story 1/9/2005 end)

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